Jewish World Review Oct. 12, 2005 / 9 Tishrei
Frank J. Gaffney, Jr.
Out of control
Sen. Jesse Helms once famously complained that the problem with the State Department is simple. With all its "country desks" (whose job usually seems to be to represent the interests of their respective nations during U.S. policy-making deliberations), the Department is missing one: the American desk. As a result, the view from Foggy Bottom is all too often not what is best for the United States but what will maintain our cordial relations with other countries, generally on their terms.
Well, we could sure use an American desk at the State Department right now. In its absence, unless President Bush gets personally involved, the Department's lawyers representing the strongly held views of some foreign governments are going to get some U.S. GIs killed, and probably compel them unnecessarily to kill Iraqis, and perhaps others, in this War for the Free World.
Here's the background. In the early 1990s, Mr. Bush's father decided he was going to rid the world of all chemical weapons. The result was the 1992 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) that purported to do just that. At the time, even its supporters acknowledged that the CWC was unverifiable and unlikely to be faithfully implemented by all its parties (notably, the Russians and Chinese) to say nothing of nations like Saddam Hussein's Iraq who declined to sign up.
Still, President George H.W. Bush wanted such a treaty. So the rest of the government went along, including the U.S. military. It was only too happy to get rid of a vast stockpile of obsolete, largely unusable and increasingly dangerous chemical munitions on the pretext that our potential adversaries would not have such weapons, either.
While the armed services were willing to go that far, there was a show-stopper as far as they were concerned. They balked at the insistence of some of our negotiating partners (including some of our European allies) to the effect that the Chemical Weapons Convention had to ban the use of riot control agents (RCAs), as well. That is a fancy term for non-lethal substances like tear gas.
Now, police forces all across America wouldn't dream of being without tear gas, pepper spray and the like. They understand that the use of such agents can enable the authorities to control an ugly situation with a minimum of violence. In their absence, lethal force might have to be used in circumstances where that would not only be undesirable, but possibly highly counterproductive.
Such products have also long been marketed to consumers in this country for personal protection. Communities that do not allow their residents to carry guns recognize that little canisters of these non-lethal agents are legitimate means of self-defense. They are sufficiently domesticated that you can buy ones that can be clipped onto a key chain or put in a purse.
Just don't try putting their military counterpart in the kit bags of our troops in dangerous places like Iraq or Afghanistan. Why? Because the U.S. State Department has decided that the use of RCAs by our forces in the field would violate the 1992 Chemical Weapons Convention.
Never mind that the then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Colin Powell who subsequently would, himself, push cookies at the State Department for the incumbent President Bush laid down the law to his father: In 1992, as the CWC was being negotiated, Gen. Powell declared: "Non-lethal riot control agents provide a morally correct option to achieve defensive military objectives without having to resort to the unnecessary loss of innocent lives. Sacrificing such an option would be an unacceptable price to pay for a CW treaty."
This position was formally endorsed by Bush '41. Even though the Convention prohibits "the use of riot control agents as a method of warfare," George Herbert Walker Bush made clear that he interpreted that obligation to be consistent with then-existing U.S. policy dating back to the Ford Administration, which permitted the defensive use of RCAs in four different contexts "to save lives."
It is instructive to see what the State Department lawyers are now arguing our troops can't do, despite the following applications approved in Mr. Ford's Executive Order 11850:
"(a) Use of riot control agents in riot control situations in areas under direct and distinct U.S. military control, to include controlling rioting prisoners of war.
"(b) Use of riot control agents in situations in which civilians are used to mask or screen attacks and civilian casualties can be reduced or avoided.
"(c) Use of riot control agents in rescue missions in remotely isolated areas, of downed aircrews and passengers, and escaping prisoners.
"(d) Use of riot control agents in rear echelon areas outside the zone of immediate combat to protect convoys from civil disturbances, terrorists and paramilitary organizations."
In due course, Bill Clinton accepted this formulation as well when it became a non-negotiable Senate precondition for approval of the CWC. And it was enshrined in the resolution of ratification that body ultimately adopted.
Never mind. The American-desk-free State Department insists the U.S. military would be violating the Chemical Weapons Convention if it uses RCAs. As a result, it is not doing so. And State's lawyers are adamantly resisting executive or legislative branch efforts (the latter being well led by Sen. John Ensign, Republican of Nevada) that would show them to be dead wrong.
The question is: How many GIs or Iraqi citizens are going to have to wind up dead unnecessarily because the riot control agents that might have saved their lives couldn't be used thanks to some out-of-control State Department lawyers?
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